Many freshly baked vegetarians and vegans, who enthusiastically add vegetables and whole grains to their plates, often face delicate problems like bloating, gas, or other stomach upsets. Faced with this reaction of the body, many are both anxious and mistakenly think that they have a food allergy or that a plant-based diet is not suitable for them. But it’s not! The secret is to transition to a plant-based diet more smoothly – and chances are, your body will adjust just fine to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Even if you love vegetables, legumes and whole grains, which form the basis of a plant-based diet, take your time. Never overeat and watch what you eat and how your body reacts to each food.
Some cooking options and the right approach to choosing products can facilitate the process of digestion. Here’s a look at the main food groups and the common digestive problems they can cause for vegetarians or vegans, along with some simple solutions.
Legumes can cause stomach discomfort and gas. The reason is in the carbohydrates they contain: when they enter the large intestine in an incompletely digested state, they are finally broken down there, as a result of which a side effect is formed – gases.
First and foremost, make sure your beans are cooked properly. Beans should be soft on the inside – the firmer they are, the harder they are to digest.
Rinsing the beans after soaking, just before cooking, also helps to get rid of some of the indigestible elements. During cooking, remove the foam that forms on the surface of the water. If you are using canned beans, also rinse them before using.
OTC products and probiotics containing bifidobacteria and lactobacilli can help prevent gas and bloating.
Fruits and vegetables
Digestive problems can be caused by the acid found in citrus fruits, melons, apples, and some other fruits. Meanwhile, vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower can also cause gas.
Eat fruits only with other foods and make sure they are ripe. Unripe fruits contain indigestible carbohydrates.
Beware of dried fruits – they can work as a laxative. Limit your portions and slowly add dried fruits to your diet, paying attention to how your gut feels.
As for healthy, but gas-producing vegetables, include in your diet, but combine with other, less gas-producing vegetables.
Eating large amounts of whole grains can cause digestive discomfort because their outer coatings are difficult to digest.
Introduce whole grains into your diet in small portions and start with more tender varieties, such as brown rice, which is not as high in fiber as, say, wheat grains.
Boil whole grains thoroughly, and try to use whole grain flour in your baked goods. Whole grain wheat is easier to digest when ground.
Many vegetarians who have eliminated meat from their diet and want to easily increase their protein intake rely heavily on dairy products. When lactose is not broken down in the intestines, it travels to the large intestine, where bacteria do their job, causing gas, bloating, and diarrhea. In addition, in some people, the digestive system becomes less able to process lactose with age, because the intestinal enzyme lactase, which can break down lactose, decreases.
Look for products that do not contain lactose – they are pre-processed with enzymes that break it down. Yogurt, cheese, and sour cream usually contain less lactose than other dairy products, so they cause fewer problems. And once you’re ready, cut out dairy and switch to a vegan diet!